NYOF has had an interesting spring. In April, PBS aired a documentary on the program NOW about our project to free young girls from indentured servitude in west Nepal. They sent over an observant and savvy crew from New York, which did an excellent job in explaining and describing the terrible practice of indenturing young girls as servants. I know that many of you saw the program (if you did not, you can find it at http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/414/video.html). I thought you might be interested in some “behind-the-scenes” events during the filming. The program included the story of Sushila, an 11 year old girl we rescued on camera from her job as a bonded servant, but what went on behind the scenes was just as interesting.
Sushila had been indentured by her father to work as a servant for a family in Kathmandu. Neither she nor her father received any compensation for her services, but the indenturing family promised to provide room and board and send her to school; to their credit, they did so. The PBS crew went to Sushila’s home village, where they met the woman who was her employer. She had come to fetch Sushila to return to work for a third year. The employer could have been assigned the role by central casting, so perfectly did she fit it. She vehemently denied that she employed a child servant and went sashaying off down the road, angry at the suggestion. Of course, she returned later, packed up Sushila, and brought her to resume work in Kathmandu.
We contacted Sushila’s father and asked if he would allow her to return home, in exchange for which NYOF would provide the family with a piglet or a goat, which they could sell at the end of the year for a profit. In addition, we offered to give her a scholarship to attend school, as we do to for every rescued girl. He agreed, and took the 10 hour bus ride into Kathmandu, where Raju, a member of our staff, met him. Raju had called the employer in advance to tell her about the purpose of their impending visit. But when they arrived at the home where Sushila was working, the employer was not at home. This is where one of the two best scenes in the program occurs – Sushila was called out of the house, saw her father, and was puzzled at first by his presence. But when she learned why he was there, she broke into one of the brightest smiles that ever graced a screen.
The employer arrived a few minutes later, accompanied by a posse of relatives, and a royal row ensued between Raju and the employer and her relatives. Only a few seconds of the argument is in the film. They objected to the cameras, and demanded to know why Raju was picking on them, since Nepal is full of child laborers. Raju replied that we had not singled them out, that we had rescued 3500 girls in Sushila’s position, and that they must know child labor is illegal in Nepal. He demanded that she be allowed to go home with her father.
The dispute lasted more than an hour, during which tears coursed down Sushila’s face as the adults around her squabbled about her fate. “You see,” said the posse, “she is crying because she loves it here and doesn’t want to leave.” Her father said not a word – he is a poor, uneducated man, and in some aspects Nepal is still a feudal society. It would be unthinkable for him to argue with these rich and educated people, not even in defense of his daughter.
Sushila was finally allowed to depart with her father and Raju. On their way to the bus station to return to their village, they stopped for a bite to eat, and Raju said Sushila could not stop smiling. Then came the other priceless scene: Sushila is on the bus with her father, and when she is asked what she will do now, she says “I’m going to go to school, and I will play, and do work in my own home.” In that order! There’s a child who knows what’s important in her life!
Sushila’s story is far from the worst among the children who are bonded away. Many of these little girls are severely abused, since their working conditions are entirely at the discretion of their employers and no one checks to see how they are treated. At least, Sushila was allowed to attend school – a privilege which few of the bonded girls enjoy.
We are on a crusade to rescue all these children and eradicate the bonding custom in Nepal. If you would like to help, what better time to do it than now – as a Mother’s Day gift. For $100, you can bring a girl home to live with her family, buy a piglet or a baby goat to compensate them, pay her school expenses for a year and support our terrific awareness program to turn the community against the well-established bonding practice -all in your mother’s name. We will tell her about your gift if you give us her address.
If you would like a copy of the program on DVD, we will send one to you free of charge.
Here is a letter from Olga Murray to the generous supporters of NYOF. Also, be sure to watch PBS' program featuring this project and Olga’s work. This program is scheduled to appear on PBS’s NOW series in early April (April 4 for those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area). For your local broadcasting dates and times, please visit the link below. Also see the attached document for some pictures and more details on the PBS program.
Spring has sprung here in Kathmandu, I am glad to say. It’s been a cold and messy winter, with shortages of petrol, cooking gas, and eight hours of electricity cutoff a day. The lines at the gas stations are literally miles long; I am astonished, as always, at the patience and good spirits of the Nepali people, who carry on cheerfully against all odds.
But not all is bad news. In west Nepal in January, we had a big celebration to mark the almost-eradication in the Dang District of the inhumane custom of bonding little girls away to work as servants for families in distant cities. We have been working in Dang since January 2000 to stamp out this terrible practice, and as many of you know, we have devised an ingenious method to do so. The not-so-secret weapons in this battle are a baby piglet and girl power.
Each family that agrees to allow its daughter to remain at home and not bond her away receives a piglet or a goat that they can sell at the end of the year for about the same amount as they received for their daughter’s labor. NYOF enrolls the girls in school and pays all their education-related expenses. Simultaneously, we operate a vigorous awareness program to turn the community against this well-established practice. It is the liberated girls who are the most energetic and passionate in spreading the word against the custom and convincing parents not to send their daughters away.
On January 15, the festival day on which the girls are bonded away, more than 2300 girls liberated by NYOF marched in a demonstration in opposition to the bonding practice, and to celebrate their freedom and the virtual eradication of the practice in Dang. I was among them, marching and chanting, with more enthusiasm than comprehension. True, a small number of girls are still bonded away, but this is done under the table and with a sense of shame. Our crusade has been so successful that labor contractors, who used to flood the villages on the festival day, no longer come openly to “buy” the girls. And politicians who used to arrange the bondage of a family’s daughters for a few dollars as a favor to a constituent now do just the opposite –they offer to reunite the family and enroll their daughter in NYOF’s program. As a result, whereas in prior years, in the Dang District, thousands of girls were sent off each year to the homes of strangers to work as virtual slaves, some of them weeping openly at the impending departure from their homes and families, now only a few are clandestinely contracted away.
Much of the credit goes to the liberated girls themselves, who have formed clubs, created and acted in street plays, and distributed posters and flyers to turn the community against the practice. Shiva, one of the first girls rescued under NYOF’s program, is now a freshman in college and a leader in her community against the bonding custom. She and other girls previously returned have created a “forum” to combat the custom. While I was in Dang in January for the celebration, they invited me to a meeting. I was given a rousing reception - covered with garlands and red paste on my forehead – the sign of welcome and respect in Nepal. I asked each of the girls to tell me their stories; the description of their suffering filled me with anger and pity in equal proportions. Their most emotional moments came when, their voices quavering, they expressed their resolve that their younger sisters would never, ever, be subjected to the same ordeal as they were.
But the job of eradicating this custom is far from done in spite of our great success in Dang. About 10-15,000 girls, some as young as six or seven, are bonded away annually in five districts in west Nepal. In January, at the same time we were celebrating in Dang, we took the show onthe road and started our eradication campaign in the adjoining district of Bardiya, where we estimate that about 2000 girls are indentured annually.
We need your help. Our goal is nothing more or less than to eradicate this appalling practice from Nepal, once and forever.
We have the know-how, experienced local staff, and the zeal to make this happen. All we need is the financial support of people like you. It costs only $100 to rescue a girl, bring her home to live with her family, provide them with incentives to make up for her lost wages, pay her school expenses for a year, and conduct our super-effective awareness campaign to turn the community against the practice.
Watch the PBS documentary, and you will see, live and in color, the stories of the children who are victims of this practice, hear their parents’ heart-breaking reasons for sending them away, and learn how NYOF is working to make a better life for them.
Olga’s dispatch from Kathmandu
It’s a while since I have been in touch. I arrived in Nepal at the end of November for my annual six month stay. It’s good to be back again to resume my second life and to see how our programs are going.
I returned last week from the Dang District in west Nepal, where we operate our program for indentured girls. It was a thrilling experience. For one thing, we have almost eradicated the bonding custom in the Dang District (one of five in which it is prevalent) and moved on to the adjoining district to do the same. To celebrate, a huge demonstration was organized – over 2000 girls who had been rescued from bondage marching through the main town, chanting slogans against the practice and distributing flyers to the onlookers. A certain 82 year old woman was by their side, striding along and mouthing the slogans with more enthusiasm than comprehension. At times, I had a sense of unreality – how did someone who grew up in New York and was a lawyer in San Francisco for 37 years end up in remote west Nepal, marching with thousands of formerly bonded girls against a feudal custom? Life is unpredictable, to say the least.
We visited the beautiful but very poor villages, talking to the parents of formerly bonded girls and to their daughters about their experiences. At times, it was painful, with the mothers crying when they remembered the departure of their daughters for who-knows-where to live with and work for strangers. One child had been sent away when she was six years old to labor as a baby sitter in someone’s household. She returned before the one-year period of her contract had expired, because she was so painfully homesick and cried constantly for her mother. She is now nine – a lively, pretty, curious child. It was hard to believe that she had undergone such a traumatic experience so recently. She jumped rope, played hopscotch, peered curiously into the contents of my purse, and laughed at almost anything. This extraordinary resilience of Nepali children is one of their most outstanding and appealing characteristics. Tethered to a tree trunk near us was the goat (now pregnant) we had given her parents to compensate for her lost wages.
What was most heartening was to spend time with the girls who had returned from working as servants years ago – l6, l7, l8 years old, now in school, and passionate about ending the bonding custom. I was invited to a meeting of the club they had formed for this purpose, and was very impressed with their intelligence, enthusiasm – and beauty. When they spoke about their experiences while they were contracted away, their voices quivered as they emphasized that whatever else happens in their lives, their little sisters would not suffer the same fate. It is these young women who will shape the future of their downtrodden community with their insistence on justice and education for Tharu girls.
We were accompanied by a film crew that is making a documentary about the bonding practice. We will send you a copy of the film when it is finished and notify you when it is aired on television. Thank you for your support of NYOF over the years, which has enabled us to improve the lives of thousands of impoverished Nepali children. We would be most appreciative if you can send a donation to help us to educate the thousands of girls who have recently been freed from bondage and liberate the thousands who are still indentured.
Warm regards, Olga
This year NYOF will accomplish the first stage in our long term goal of completely eradicating the practice of young Nepali girls being sold into slavery by their families. We first began this program in the year 2000 when we were able to rescue 32 girls. The number of girls saved has grown to over 3,400. We would not have been able to achieve this goal without the support of our donor community. Their response to our need has been amazing!
By the end of January 2008, NYOF will have completely eliminated this practice in the Dang Valley. We will have rescued every girl that was going to be sold into bonded servitude. We are now able to move on to an adjoining valley and continue our goal of rescuing the 20,000 to 25,000 girls sold yearly into bonded servitude. NYOF wants to achieve this goal by the year 2010.
During mid-January the labor contractors descend on the villages in Nepal. They convince the families to sell their daughters (some as young as six) for approximately $40 or $50. The girls receive nothing, and are sent off to far away places. The families lose all contact. The girls work from dawn to dusk. None of these children receive an education. Many never return home. The situation is tailor made for abuse.
NYOF convinces the families to keep their daughters at home. We give the families a piglet or goat that they can raise on food scraps and sell for more money than they would have received for their daughters. NYOF sends these girls to school and pays all of their expenses. NYOF enlarges the classrooms, instructs the teachers, pays for all supplies, uniforms, books, and even provides kerosene lamps so the girls may study at night as there is no electricity.
NYOF will not be able to achieve its long term goal without our continued donor support. It only costs $100 to rescue a girl from bonded servitude. We hope you will join us in this worthwhile effort.
The goal of this project is to rescue from bonded servitude young girls in Nepal who are more or less “sold” by their parents to work as servants in the homes of strangers far away from their villages.
Our “modus operandi” was to avoid giving money to the parents because alcoholism is rife in the area. Instead, if the father would agree to leave his daughter at home or to recall her from her labors, we provided the family with a piglet or a goat, which they could raise on kitchen scraps and sell at the end of the year for about the same sum as it received for the child’s labor. Or more, if the animal was bred. Simultaneously, we placed the girl in school at our own expense and enrolled her mother in an income generation program. By this means, we hope that within three or four years the mother can earn enough to pay her daughter’s own school expenses.
The program has been phenomenally successful. From its inception in January 2000, when 32 girls were rescued, NYOF has now returned more than 1300 girls home to live with their families and attend school in our target area. Indeed, we are responsible for the rescue of 2500 young girls – last year, an INGO with much larger resources offered to help us, and after we trained them in our methods, they rescued 1200 girls in a single year.
We have now more or less defeated the practice in the area where we have been working for the last six years and have moved on to an adjoining locality where the practice is common. In January 2006, we enrolled 500 new girls in the program in this new location.
Simultaneously, we began our energetic awareness program to turn the community against the practice. Our success is due substantially to these efforts. We initiated many methods to inform the community about the inhumaneness and illegality of what was a commonly accepted practice. The girls returned home by NYOF wrote street plays, which they acted out in the villages, describing their suffering while they were indentured. We bought time weekly on a local radio station for a program in which the returned girls talked about their experiences as bonded laborers, initiated a broad poster and leaflet campaign, formed the girls and the adults in the community into clubs to oppose the practice, and filed lawsuits against those who employed bonded girls. By this means, the villagers in our target area were turned against the bonding custom. Whereas in prior years, hundreds of girls were sent off every year, to our knowledge, not a single girl in our target area went off to work last year.
We have initiated our awareness campaign in the adjoining locality. Our aim is to bring a few hundred girls home from their labors, start our effective awareness campaign, and then to invite an INGO with larger resources to finish the job. It is estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 young girls of the Tharu ethnic group are subject to this practice in five western districts of Nepal. We have an ambitious goal – to eliminate the practice by 2010, with the help of other INGOs.
You can also click below to read the NYOF spring newsletter!
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